7 June 1940:
Actually, the first bombing raid over Berlin was a French affair.
On Monday, June 3, 1940, the Germans launched “Operation Paula” with a Luftwaffe force of some three hundred bombers attacking Paris and causing several hundred civilian casualties. The French decided to retaliate, and although they didn’t have a comparable number of bombers, a psychological blow to the enemy was deemed necessary.
On June 7, 1940, a week before The Fall Of Paris, the French Navy went into the offensive attacking Berlin on a night raid. It was made just by one plane, and no other raids will be made again by the French during the rest of the war. Damage to the capital was slight. The only long-range bomber available in 1940 was the Farman F.222, a rather ungainly four-engine aircraft dating back to the mid-1930s based on the French idea of the ‘multiplace de combat’, an outdated concept of air war. The Aéronautique Navale was in possession of three Farman 223.4, former postal aircraft that had been requisitioned by the Navy and given the names Camille Flammarion, Le Verrier, and Jules Verne. The ‘Jules Verne’, formerly Air France’s F-ARIN, was assigned to Capitaine de Corvette Henri Daillière in April 1940.
[The experienced crew of the Jules Verne: C.C. Daillière (commandant, at centre); l’Enseigne de Vaisseau Comet (navigator); Maître Principal Yonnet (pilot); Maître Corneillet (flight engineer); Maître Scour (radioperator) and Second Maître Deschamps (mitrailleur-bombardier).]
Daillière was given the mission to be the first aviator to attack the Reich capital with ordnance. The ‘Jules’ took off from Merignac airfield near Bordeaux at mid afternoon and set course for Berlin. The crew proceeded over the North Sea at dark, later flying in over the Baltic Sea before turning south and heading straight for Berlin at high altitude. Daillière says: ‘ I got ready to release the bombs and realized that someone had failed to install our bombsight, so I pressed my nose to the glass of the cockpit’. He wasn’t able to identify natural landmarks, and Berlin was blacked out; but once the city’s searchlights came on, the city was defined. He tried to create the impression of more than one airplane, and then dropped his bomb load over some factories in Berlin’s north end, where some bombs fell in the administrative district of Pankow.
Daillière made for Paris in a straighter path back to France, and landed at Orly Airfield. They met no resistance on the return leg, and when the aircraft touched down, it had covered nearly 3,000 miles in 13.5 hours on this epic mission. The French Admiralty released a communique on the next day stating that ‘a squadron of navy aviation bombarded had raided factories in the outskirts of Berlin last night’ highlighting this first raid, the great distance of the target and that all planes had returned safely to their base.
Hitler -and Berliners too- knew after the French attack that they’re vulnerable at their own home.
[This is the front cover of the New York newspaper ‘The Sun’ the day after the French raided the Third Reich’s capital, Saturday, 8 June 1940.]
[The first Allied bomber to raid Berlin, a Farman F. 223.4, received a new brown/green/grey colour scheme on top and flat black finish on sides for night operations to cover her aluminium finish. French Tricolores were also added on rudders and the civil registration was kept. Note original nickname Jules Verne has been masked to not overtape it with the new black finish. Daillière oversaw a series of modifications to the aircraft at the Toussus-le-Noble airfield, which included the installment of a 7.5 mm Darne machine-gun in the right rear access door, eight Alkan bomb shackles under the aircraft, a bombsight, extra fuel tanks as well as an autopilot.]
Sources and Bibliography:
- Bertke, Donald, Kindell, Don & Smith, Gordon. (2011). World War II sea war: France falls, Britain stand alone: Day-to-Day Naval Actions April 1940 through September 1940. Lulu.
- Fernandez, José & Laureau, Patrick. (2019). French Bombers of WWII (White Series). Mushroom Model Publications.